Savvy politicos court Bay Area bloggers
Dennis Herrera is running for re-election as San Francisco's city attorney and loudly rumored to be eyeing the mayor's office down the road. So a few weeks ago, he invited about a dozen influential folks to a local restaurant for drinks (on his campaign's tab) and some face time. Those folks were local bloggers.
Herrera is one of a handful of forward-thinking local politicians - such as San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, a candidate for state attorney general; East Bay congressional candidate Adriel Hampton; and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough - who are reaching out to bloggers as if they were another constituent group.
It's a relationship bloggers and politicos think can be mutually beneficial - particularly for the candidate, as the relationship is largely free of the adversarial pushback pols receive from traditional media. Even President Obama plans to meet soon with liberal bloggers as a way to spread his message to a potentially friendlier audience.
Local and statewide politicians realize that as traditional media outlets cut their staffs and reduce coverage, bloggers can offer a more efficient way to spread their messages - and, occasionally, their planted stories - to a wider audience. Because of the rapid pace of downsizing in mainstream media, these days it is also more frequently the local blogger who is following the minutiae of planning commissions and neighborhood concerns.
While there are bloggers who break news, most do not consider themselves journalists in the traditional sense, but rather opinion-makers who sometimes report. Many are partisans, political geeks who, if they're not tapped into the local political party apparatus, are hardwired into online networks of like-minded people.
And while their audiences may not be large - anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand - the several hundred political bloggers in California are reaching the right demographic audience.
"They're the people who are generally very connected in political circles," said Alex Tourk, Herrera's campaign manager, who gathered the bloggers for drinks. He pulled together a crowd of statewide bloggers last year for Speier's congressional run and plans to do something similar for Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco. "They're the people whose friends turn to them to find out how to vote."
More politicians are recognizing that. It is how Sean Mykael McMullen - the 32-year-old Livermore resident who writes the BearFlagBlue blog of East Bay politics ( www.bearflagblue.com) - found himself sitting in a Livermore doughnut shop across the table from congressional candidate Adriel Hampton.
Hampton isn't abandoning traditional media in his quest to replace Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Walnut Creek. But in a continually fracturing media environment, he is reaching out in as many ways as he can.
"These are the people who don't just write about the campaign, but they're volunteering for it," Hampton said. "And I know that some of the (bloggers) I talk to will wind up working, for pay, for other campaigns."
While Hampton, a Dublin resident who is a former political reporter for the San Francisco Examiner, and McMullen agreed on most issues, the blogger found Hampton's position on religious freedom a bit too conservative. (Hampton said in his online platform, "I would not force pharmacists to violate their religious faiths to work at state hospitals.")
"I see myself more as an activist than a reporter," said McMullen, who serves on the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee.
It is not uncommon for political operatives to plant a story - about their own campaign or another - with a friendly blogger.
"It's part of the modus operandi of political communication these days," said Brian Brokaw, campaign manager for Harris' run for state attorney general. "Of course, it would have to pass through the filter of the mainstream media to have a big splash, though."
"It's more 'pitch ideas' than 'plant stories,' " Tourk said. "Just like you'd pitch an idea to a (traditional media) reporter."
Many bloggers see themselves as serving an adjunct function to journalists. Sure, Brian Leubitz regularly breaks news on the Calitics blog he founded ( www.calitics.com). "But then a (traditional media) reporter will pick it up and do the reporting that I don't necessarily want to do," Leubitz says.
Relying on traditional news
Few bloggers or political operatives see traditional journalism going away - or want it to. Besides, said Tourk, confirming media consumption studies, "most people get their news from TV anyways. I don't see that changing."
But as former CBS News anchor Dan Rather told The Chronicle, local TV reporters often take their cues from print reporters.
"If you close down the newspapers, who is going to do the reporting?" Rather said. "I'm a great believer in the Web, but most Web sites don't have any reporting staffs."
n't have any reporting staffs."